OAKLAND -- Internationally, ice hockey draws talent from various parts of the world, including Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic and the northern and northeastern United States.

Bay Area ice hockey, for its part, reflects the region's own special diversity. At the Oakland Ice Center, people of Latin American, Asian American and African American backgrounds join those of European descent in enjoying what many typically consider a "white" sport.

"I grew up in exactly that (white-sport environment)," said Ice Center hockey manager Emily Teachout, a Minnesota native. "When I first moved here, the diversity caught my eye. But now when diversity doesn't exist (in an opposing club), it catches my eye."

For the young players, enjoyment of the game matters most.

"From a socioeconomic standpoint, kids are kids, and they really don't have a lot of biases," said Oakland Bears Hockey Club Pee Wee coach John Nadzam, who grew up playing hockey in the Detroit area. "(For them), it's all about the team."

Teachout admits that hockey can become expensive. But the Ice Center offers need-based scholarships to help with costs.

"It's a huge job to keep it accessible," she said. "We hope to get more diversity. If you want to play, we can find a way to get you going here."

On another note, much of hockey's surging popularity in the Bay Area stems from the number of people -- such as Teachout and Nadzam -- who have settled in the region after moving from hockey-loving areas.


Advertisement

To that end, teams like the Bears help fill a void for families such as that of Pee Wee player Nolan Koziel.

"I grew up playing hockey in the Chicago area," said Nolan's father, Tadd Koziel. "When we moved here, I didn't think Nolan would learn (the game). But he really pushed himself to learn it. We're all weekend at the rink."

---